Sippican Cottage

Close this search box.
wall cavity
Picture of sippicancottage


A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Luck Is Where You Find It

There it is. The scene of the refrigerator crime. The corpse has been moved, but there’s a greasy outline of it on the wall to help with forensics

I told you I was lucky. You don’t believe me, because I recount stories about hitting my thumb over and over and getting Lyme disease and discovering a geyser of excrement in my basement and snow in my driveway. Everyone moved two times zones and a couple of meridians or something else cartographic just to get away from that last one. They have hurricanes and earthquakes and wildfires and mudslides and droughts and tornadoes and riots, but that’s nothing compared with being forced to push a plastic shovel up and down the walk a dozen times a season. But I must insist, I’m lucky.

Take this kitchen for example. It’s not a little wrong. That would be unlucky. It’s exactly wrong. That’s lucky. The refrigerator is where the sink should go. The sink is where the stove should go. The stove is where nothing should go. It’s unbelievably lucky, because I can work on the places where stuff is going to end up while it’s still in use where it should never have gone in the first place.

Regular construction has a more or less predictable set of operations. You make a plan, you buy your stuff, you stack it on-site, you assemble your workforce, and then you perform each step of the construction process to its completion before moving on to the next one. Eventually it’s done. You can’t do that in an occupied house. If it’s your own house, you can get away with much more hardship than if you’re doing construction for money for strangers. There are still limits, however. After all, there are a lot of knives handy in the kitchen, and if there’s no running water or electricity in there for long periods, certain ideas enter a frustrated homeowner’s mind.

First things first, though. It’s pitch dark in there since we cut the power to all the knob and tube wiring. There are no overhead lights working anywhere in the house now. It’s dumb to work in the dark unless you’re a gigolo or a projectionist. Luckily (there’s that word again), we have no money. If we had lots of money, we’d spend endless hours of time and oodles of dough while trying to select from the dizzying array of perfectly hideous light fixtures that every lighting store sells. I assume that’s how it works, I’ve never been inside a lighting store. I just noticed that no matter how much money people have to spend, pretty much all light fixtures that aren’t antique reproductions or salvage are awful-looking. If there were any good looking ones in there, I figure someone would have bought one by accident occasionally. LED ceiling cans to the rescue! Luckily, we were poor, and couldn’t afford any light fixtures. So what? We want light, not Calder sculptures with Edison bulbs and switches.

Back when we went shopping, the government was trying to make everyone forget about that time they attempted to force us all to put curlicue mercury hand grenades in all our light sockets. It didn’t work, so they decided to subsidize LED light bulbs to keep us from buying weird Mexican incandescents at the dollar store and ruining the ecobiospristinowildernessoceanoearthosphere and stuff. I’m sure the bulbs weren’t cheap to make, but they sure were cheap to buy that year. We cut five holes in the ceiling, and fished wires in a daisy chain from one to the next to the switch. This was the easiest time I’ve ever had fishing romex wire in any house, because the joist bays were 34 freaking feet long, remember? Nothing in the way.

So as I’ve bored you with already, there are really only three things in a kitchen: stove-fridge-sink. The rest is connective tissue. Get those right, and you’re bound to have a good kitchen. The refrigerator is on wheels, so he’s no problem. Move it aside and plug it back in. The stove is free-standing electric, so it doesn’t need to be installed into anything to work. It just needs a big, honking plug where it lands. The reefer was placed on the only wall with a window, along with a cabinet run. That’s where the sink will go, because if my wife has to wash one more dish with a cabinet door in her face, well, there’s those knives again. Rule number one in any kitchen is to put the sink under a window. Period. Stuck in an island isn’t as daft as putting a cooktop there, but it’s still pretty goofy if you ask me. You’re reading this, so you did ask me.

Ah, all the French designers say the layered look is in this year. It was in every year for the last century at my house. Layers of paint and plaster and paneling and homasote and wallpaper borders and linoleum and shelf paper, all held together with the ultimate adhesive, a clever mixture of nicotine and spider webs and cooking grease. If our predecessors kept laying it on like that, the room would have ended up about the size of a phone booth, with six-foot-thick walls. I was lucky there was no hope of salvaging any of it, so we could safely nuke it all and not feel sheepish.

Perhaps you’ll notice something else dumb and lucky in this photo. Not my son. If he was lucky, he wouldn’t be helping me. I’m referring to that plastic pipe sticking out of the wall. Back when we enjoyed our geyser of excrement, we discovered a clean out and drain in the basement on the opposite side of the house from the bathroom. It’s more or less right under that pipe you see there. We added a bath, upstairs in that hideous blue room we showed you yesterday. We ran the DWV (drain, waste, vent) pipe along the ceiling in the kitchen, bored a hole in the outside wall, and ran the pipe down two floors to the main drain leaving the house. Luckily, while we were at it, we remembered to stub out a kitchen sink drain on the way by.

The lad is replacing the lath we demolished. We put in very beefy blocking, which is leftover blocks of framing lumber set between the studs and screwed to a fare-thee-well. When you mount cabinets and sinks and things to a wall that has wood lath, it’s deuced difficult to find studs after the fact. Stud finders are confused by the lath. But we keep the lath, and restore it with new stuff we ripped from leftover lumber, to keep the wall the correct thickness. Then we replace the old horsehair plaster coats with 1/2″ drywall sheets. The blocking lets us find sturdy screwing spots wherever we need them, without cursing at the stud finder all day.

This next picture is a good illustration of the incremental aspect of the work. We ran the pex plumbing on the surface, because the house is timber framed, and I didn’t relish the idea of trying to bore holes in the big wooden members, and disturbing all the loose rockwool insulation, just to get the plumbing in the wall. I’ll be making the cabinets, and the plumbing will be hidden behind the dishwasher and the cabinets anyway. We wired a couple of new GFCI plugs. We had to tape and finish the drywall to keep going. We’ll have to do all the same operations three or four more times to keep from disturbing the whole kitchen at once. It’s not as efficient, but it’s necessary.

The building inspector showed up.

She said it looked OK, so we proceeded. But the new hot and cold water pipe would have to be ripped out, however, because we got really lucky right after this.

[To be continued]

One Response

  1. When the French say “layered” they intend it to rhyme with “merde” for a reason.

    I like the picture of your construction supervisor in the last picture. Has he/she been helping by sticking their head right into where you’re working every step of the way?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Thanks for commenting! Everyone's first comment is held for moderation.